organic no-till establishment of hairy vetch as a cover crop into hay sod and sensitivity to carbon amendments

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2011: $11,525.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Northeast
State: New Hampshire
Project Leader:
Dorn Cox
Westwick Farming LLC

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, soybeans, sunflower, grass (misc. perennial), hay


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: crop rotation, cover crops, no-till, nutrient cycling, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Pest Management: biological control, competition, mulches - killed, mulches - living, physical control, smother crops
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil microbiology, soil chemistry, soil quality/health

    Proposal summary:

    Organic No-till has many promising applications and benefits for New Hampshire agriculture. No-till crop production was once thought to be incompatible with organic production systems, because synthetic herbicides are typically used to kill any competing plants prior to establishing the new crop. Organic no-till utilizes recently killed high-residue cover crops to act as both as a weed-suppressing mulch and a source of nutrients. The cover crop can be killed and the cash crop can be planted in a single-pass when using front-mounted equipment like the roller/crimper and a rear-mounted no-till planter. This has been successfully adapted and demonstrated on our farm and several other farms in our area that worked with the technology in 2008 and 2009. These techniques can: • Reduced or eliminated soil erosion • Build organic matter in the soil. • Minimize soil disturbance • Stimulate microbial activity including mycorrhizae. • Saves time and energy • Reduce reliance on pesticides like conventional no-till • Creates biomass above and below the ground. • Conserve water • Recycle nutrients • Creates channels for water, air and nutrients • Increase soil tilth • Improves aggregate stability However, the technique of rolling/mulching a cover crop in place depends on the establishment of the cover crop and the quality of the result depends on the quality and quantity of the biomass established by the covercrop. The knowledge gained from previous projects, especially around the sensitivity of no-till success to soil conditions and particularly to the competitiveness of vetch with sod in the presence of high quantities of woodash directly informs this current proposal (See photos in attachment). We would like to explore more in depth what it is in the woodash that is creating the conditions for success and demonstrate it in a more systematic way. To do this we would perform replicated trials with other high carbon amendments like biochar as well as separate out the liming and potassium sources by only applying lime and lime and K as well as compare that with a simple tillage plot. The intention of this project is increase the success rate of organic no-till practices and therefore increasing the adoption, effectiveness and geographic reach of the practices in New Hampshire. It is clear, based on our experience that the success of organic no-till techniques are highly dependent on generating enough biomass from the covercrop. In the case of no-till establishment of the cover crop itself, the correct soil conditions are critical to enable the no-till vetch to out compete the sod and to also create enough biomass so that when crimped create a thick enough mulch to keep the sod from pushing through until the primary crop can help further shade out the between the rows. The disadvantage of vetch is that it is more succulent than crops like rye and we have noticed that we need and especially heavy crop because the higher lignin crops like rye break down more slowly. Rye, however, doesn’t have the nitrogen benefit and does not “cap” over in the spring growing to smother and further weaken the sod before crimping. In our informal trials, we have also not been able to get rye to establish well into sod without tillage.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    For this project there will be eight amendment treatments, two seed treatments and at least two soil types. They planting process and soil preparation will be consistent across all the plots with the exception of one tillage plot in each replication

    There will be four primary stages in the project –
    Stage 1) Planning and procurement of appropriate varieties and amendments
    Stage 2) Plot layout, planting and treatments
    Stage 3) Observation and data collection
    Stage 4) Analysis reporting and outreach
    Stage one: Planning and procurement of appropriate varieties and amendments

    Stage one will involve coordination with the our extension technical adviser and and contact with agronomists at Kings Agri Seeds for our vetch and vetch oats varieties as well as procurement of commercially tested wood ash from Resource Management Inc., and commercial biochar from ideal compost in Peterborough NH.

    Stage 2) Plot layout, planting and treatments and no-till demonstration workshops
    August - September

    In this stage the plots will be measured and flagged to produce at least 64 16’x20’ plots with at least 4’ gaps between the plots. This same layout will be repeated at any additional sites. This stage also involves setting up the equipment for planting. The hay fields will have been recently hayed to remove the bulk of the above ground biomass. The first physical process will then be to physically stress the sod by scalping it with a flail mower right at the ground level. This equipment has already been developed and tested. Gauge wheels have been added to a reversible Kuhn flail mower with forged hammers to enable an especially close cut (See attachments). Amendments of 2 & 4 tons biochar, 2 & 4 tons woodash as well as a plot with recommended lime and a plot with recommended lime and K will then be measured and metered evenly using a dump spreader borrowed from the UNH horticultural farm. The single tillage plot in each replication will the be tilled using an 8’ howard rotovator down to 4”. The plots will then be seeded with an 8’ 3ph no-till drill (no-end wheels) at about 40lbs of seed per acre. Observations about equipment, amendments and sod condition will all be recorded. This stage also involves alerting cooperative extension and the conservation districts and posting the dates when this will be going on with the NH department of Agriculture.

    Stage 3) Observation and Data collection
    September – June

    This stage will involve taking representative soil samples and recording germination dates of the vetch as well as recording performance of sod and vetch through the fall and into the spring, and ultimately blocking out three by three squares in each plot to do the final biomass harvest and analysis of the vetch and its performance in relation to the sod. This stage also involves hosting twilight meetings also promoted through UNH extension, the County Conservation District and the Department of Agriculture.

    Stage 4) Analysis reporting and outreach

    June - August

    In this final stage the data will be tabulated and organized along with photos to develop posters and literature that can be disseminated to other farmers through Conservation Districts, Cooperative Extension, NRCS and agricultural web sites and publications such as the NH Farm Bureau Communicator and GreenStart’s web site, which will have capacity to publish research projects as short slide shows.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.